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Monday, April 30, 2007

Traffickwag: Google, Yahoo, bosom buddies

In Canada, the fast-growing Yahoo office on Front Street has in fact overflowed and it'll be awhile before they move into their new digs on Queens Quay. In the meantime, a satellite office on a high floor in BCE Place has been established. That means some national sales reps from Yahoo and the same from Google see each other on the same floor. Can you imagine?

Maybe the worst part for both is the name of the building. Combined, Google and Yahoo sport a market capitalization about 7X BCE's.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Thursday, April 26, 2007

Search Engine Strategies Toronto -- Seth Godin!

We have a great keynote speaker now confirmed for SES Toronto, June 12-13 (the premier event for search engine marketing professionals) - Seth Godin. The first 600 through the door will even get a complimentary copy of Seth's new book, The Dip.

Don't miss it! This will be the fourth and undoubtedly the best yet Search Engine Strategies conference in Canada. Along with Seth's food for thought, there is a full lineup of fundamental topics (SEO Don't's, Myths and Scams; Meet the Crawlers) and cutting edge tips (Get Dugg!; Perfecting Paid Listings) on tap. There's even a track called "Let's Make Some Money," in case anyone forgets the purpose of marketing. :)

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Google and Radio: Why the Push?

I've noticed that Google's emphasis on the radio ads marketplace has been particularly strong - even amidst all of the other things they seem to be pumping all at once. Some client accounts have this tab visible (Account Snapshot); others, that tab (try this beta); and others, still, the other (Radio Ads). Or so it seems.

Google's testing a lot of stuff right now, but you keep hearing about the radio part.

I wonder why?

One reason seems to be the surprising growth of radio in the United States. As the most urbane members of the Creative Class and Yelp Gen have completely neglected to notice, "extreme commuting" has become ever more rampant in the U.S., as noted in a riveting recent piece in The New Yorker. As Nick Paumgarten, the author, points out, the long car commute is often very lonely. You have "cup holders for company." And the likelihood of you listening to the radio: increased. Think Google knows something?

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Wednesday, April 25, 2007

First eBay Purchase: A Car

I just had dinner with Jim Carter, President of the Calgary Chapter of the Canadian Marketing Association. I'm speaking to the group tomorrow at lunch (sold out event). (I should add, my talk isn't called Creating Brand Envy, a templated title I just stumbled on when Googling to this page!)It's roughly titled: Search Engine Marketing: The State of the Art in 42 Minutes or Less, or: these slides in this order with updated gag photos and anecdotes.)

Anyway... we all have our little eBay anecdotes. I like to tell people I have a little eBay problem (like those other compulsive shopping problems some people have). I don't need any golf clubs, but I'll see a used one that looks odd and interesting and could perhaps impart a new type of spin on the ball, or on life, so I buy it on eBay. For no apparent reason.

Jim says the first time he ever used eBay, he bought a car! The Porsche 928 I saw first hand.

That's a strong brand for you. But beyond brand, a testament to how well user feedback can work online. The vendor's reputation was transparent enough to the buyer in part due to the robust platform for researching business track records.

No word on whether my golf clubs or the 928 were originally owned by Jon Voigt. The dentist.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




"Google Favored Nation Status" Usually Fleeting: Technorati Edition

Valleywag, with backing from comments by Marissa Mayer, makes the sensible comment that Technorati's days in the organic rankings sun are unlikely to last, if their high-ranking pages on popular tech terms are too similar to search results themselves.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Friday, April 20, 2007

SES Toronto's Coming! June 12-13, 2007

It's nearly the end of April, and *finally*, true spring has taken hold around these parts. Out my way, just west of High Park, the forecast is for sunny & gorgeous all weekend, which means it won't be just the diehard runners frolicking in the park. Warning to swans: a horde of Torontonians will be stopping by to see you! In a perfect world, I'd be strapping on the rollerblades, but we'll see if that perfect world gets sidelined by the workload.

And speaking of hordes. I'm going to wager that this year's SES Toronto is going to be the best ever. Those of you who aren't on my LinkedIn list, or who didn't hear it through word-of-mouth at SES New York, may not be aware that I'll be this year's SES Toronto program chair. It's a very exciting opportunity to rethink some of the content, and also a really easy job in those cases where all I have to do is re-invite top-rated speakers. More detail about that will be posted next week. Also to come: confirmation of a terrific keynote speaker.

This is my own (co-)blog, not the official SES blog, so here I'll only be posting comments and maybe some photos of Toronto in Spring to entice you to come to the event. If you're interested in more official details about applying for one of the few available speaking slots, visit the SES Blog for instructions. Or visit the SES site for program, sponsorship, exhibitor, hotel, and registration information.

One thing to note is that for a two-day event, you have to be very well-organized if you do attend, or you're going to miss stuff. You also have to figure out a way to get to the parties and networking events on top of that. To make sure people don't miss out on the social and business networking side of things, in addition to official events, you can sure there will be some "additional" events planned; some might be for the day before or the day after the conference.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Thursday, April 19, 2007

The "Stupid Google" Meme That Refuses to Die

Business 2.0 writer weighs in with "I can't believe Google can't attract some standout marketing talent from the world of consumer packaged goods."

Yep, Google can't brand. They don't do that verb.

Today, they announced quarterly revenues above $3 billion (though the mainstream press has taken to showing "revenue not including income passed along to ad partners"); higher than their revenue for all four quarters of 2004. And once again, record profit.

With all due respect to my close friends from the world of consumer packaged goods: these hypothetical helpers could scarcely have done anything but completely screw up what Google managed to build without them.

For some reason, Froogle didn't take it off. But it isn't because it had a stupid name.

Remember when they said that Google had better hire more "traditional advertising industry schmoozers" lest it be defeated by the wiser, more schmoozy, Yahoo?

Whether Google has succeeded in spite of, or because of, their quirky corporate culture -- is it really becoming for any of us to second-guess what it's resulted in to this point?

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Tuesday, April 17, 2007

ContextWeb: The Would-Be Online Ad Market-Maker

A few weeks before the recent announcement that Google is buying DoubleClick, DoubleClick announced it'll be developing a "NASDAQ-like exchange" for the buying and selling of online advertising. Proof positive that the online ad space continues to heat up, rather than diving into an irrational "bust" as in 2000-2003.

Wait a minute, though, you may be saying. Aren't ad networks and the way ads are bought and sold today somewhat "market-like"?

Not as much as you might think. Check out Google's current contextual offerings, for example. As a publisher, do you think you can signal to the advertiser using an "ask" price? Do you have much control at all if you join one of the various ad networks and let their system allocate inventory, as opposed to using your own inside sales force? Nope. And what about the ability to stand out as a quality publisher amidst the crowd of remnant type inventory? Again, tough to do. So, tough to monetize to your fullest potential. Because the current market maker is not facilitating a true market. In that sense, DoubleClick's new promised offering, and Google's acquisition of DoubleClick, could constitute a significant step forward in online advertising efficiency.

DoubleClick won't be the only one working on a great way of putting online ad buyers and sellers together. ContextWeb, quietly licensing its matching technology since 2000, and more recently, acting as a media middleman in its own right, is working on a new "name your price" functionality in a new, highly automated ad marketplace system. I had the chance to walk through a demo yesterday with CEO Anand Subramanian and VP of Business Development Jay Sears. While the release isn't slated for a couple of months, publishers are already being targeted for a beta signup. The hook, "Ready to Make More Money than AdSense?," is not new to publishers, admits Subramanian. "Typically a publisher will become dissatisfied with their AdSense earnings, will install code from a competing network, but that will be even worse, so it's right back to AdSense," he says. But that's because these competing networks don't present a credible alternative. They represent the old school of what ContextWeb calls "Yet Another Ad Network," with fewer features, not a true marketplace, and no critical mass of buyers and sellers.

The company won't yet disclose the full range of features of its new system. To me, it seems to address the combined needs of advertisers and publishers very well, leaving neither the "prime inventory" nor the "long tail" unaddressed. ContextWeb's quiet long-term presence in the space seems to have given the company a wealth of ideas. A decent revenue stream from its current agency relationships, plus venture funding from, among others, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, has given them the long view needed to build a better platform.

If you're a publisher of quality content, here's hoping the days of "Yet Another Ad Network" will soon be a thing of a past in your balance sheet.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Monday, April 16, 2007

Endless Loop, Rev. 3.1a

Lately I've run across a few of those "moratoriums"... you know the ones, "I declare a moratorium on people saying 'Good Times'," or the lists of moratoriums that take it a bit too far and get way too specific (sorry, but I'll definitely keep using the terms 'platform' and 'ecosystem' because they work for me).

I was hoping to now bring you a list of "moratoriums on moratoriums," but the list is a bit long; rest assured there are somewhere between 48 and 1,000 folks out there discussing or declaring moratoriums on moratoriums. A lot of those, surprisingly, are in the context of a political body like a city council passing a motion on the matter. I found a lot fewer recent said declarations in the context of the present echo chamber. A technorati search turned up only one result, last time I checked. (By contrast, if you search for "technorati" on technorati, you get 1.3 million results.)

What I did not find anywhere, though -- and what I am hereby declaring today -- is a moratorium on moratoriums on moratoriums.

All by way of proving I'm not part of an Amazonian tribe that defies Chomskyan linguistic paradigms.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Well, Maybe Not the "Ultimate" Irony

Because I'm a lazy writer, I'll begin this next sentence thusly:

"In the ultimate irony..." Microsoft invokes antitrust in response to the Google-Doubleclick deal.

BTW, stay tuned for my forthcoming post on the "Brain Exchange" over at ContextWeb on the topic of "Is Google Too Powerful?" My general (and somewhat evasive) commentary was written without the DoubleClick deal in mind.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Sunday, April 15, 2007

Global Search Market Shares: AOL insignificant

Is AOL important? Well, not in search, certainly; especially not outside the United States and Canada. Quite a few numbers have been bouncing around lately in terms of search share and online advertising generally.

For those who take a non-North-American, yet search-centric perspective, the following share numbers reported by Richard Zwicky at Enquisite should interest you:

Search Market Share (Global, Excluding Canada & US):

Google 73.8%
Yahoo 10.8%
Google Images 6.9%
MSN: 1.2%
Ask: 1.2%
AOL: 1.1%

That's not to say that the US market isn't the largest and most important, but a wakeup call nonetheless. Enquisite isn't a service whose numbers get reported along with Hitwise and Netratings every month, but the sample size isn't small, either.

That global Microsoft footprint appears to be a myth, also. Surprising that their many partnerships and advantages haven't translated into search engine usage.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Friday, April 13, 2007

Ask Working on New Algorithm

Teoma and even Direct Hit before that were always sentimental favorites in the race for relevancy. Good to hear they're revamping both technologies for inclusion in a new algorithm code-named Edison.

It's always been the way to build a better search engine company. Build a better search engine.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Search Market Share Matters, or Why Yahoo! Needs Acquisitions Pronto

The latest Hitwise figures show Google increasing its monthly share of searches again in March, at the expense of Yahoo (down slightly), and Microsoft (down slightly).

Microsoft's numbers can be attributed to a few glitches, depending on who you talk to. A rebrand of the search offering (bad, confusing idea, I think) or difficulties with Hitwise's methodology.

Netratings estimates a slightly lower number for Google, 55.8% for February. Unlike Hitwise, they seem to assign 5% share to AOL Search. Whichever ratings agency you trust, it's clear (again) that Yahoo is in real trouble of losing its status as any kind of default search box for anyone. That would spell big trouble for the organization as a whole.

So I'd like to focus a bit further on the danger Yahoo faces if they let these numbers slip any further.

* First, they've spent too much on search to abandon it.

* Related to that, they've invested too much in Panama, which was built *primarily* to monetize Yahoo Search and only secondarily as a platform to bid on content, to lose any more search share.

* Third, search is good.

The "typing stuff into a box" thing is too important a category to cede, no matter how navigation may shift in the future. It is not good enough to say that Yahoo has a great diversified model that will make them money from all kinds of ad formats and fees. True, but it's not powerful enough to compete "unfairly" as a real heavyweight, if users stop using their properties to search.

So how to acquire enough of those searches? Big ideas grown internally aren't necessarily the way to win people over from their Google habit. So how to acquire enough momentum to re-establish it as people's habit to search on a Yahoo property for at least some of their needs?

* One way to get some of this back would be to acquire local search properties - like the very hot Yelp. You don't have to get into unfathomable social search or expensive Facebook acquisitions, under that scenario. There are some growing, fairly conventional, properties with a slight cachet of cool that are doing quite well. Get them now, before the price doubles.

* Next, keep building out those verticals. If your leading properties are losing to upstarts, acquire the upstarts purely for traffic. Then get the AdSense ads off them.

* As stated above. Acquire specially selected content sites purely because they're AdSense sites. Revamp the monetization plans of those sites.

* Make sure to internationalize your search for these acquirable properties, of course. Yahoo has certain major international holdings, but they need more.

* Biggest of all: Ask is clinging to some market share, and would immediately add several "type it in a box" type properties to Yahoo's stable. Moreover, IAC owns other vertical properties that would work to reinforce other things Yahoo is doing. Although it could be painful, there's nothing that says Yahoo couldn't launch a bid for all of IAC, sell what doesn't fit, and keep what does. Yahoo's valuation is currently about 4X IAC's. People worry about Yahoo's executive bloat, but the best way to reduce the bloat ratio is in fact to grow your overall top line and overall traffic, as long as it's strategic and as long as a lot of it is scalable search type stuff.

* Try to absorb a handful of departing, cashed-out Googlers who are somehow going to be convinced that this is a really cool challenge.

* Least likely, but a good idea for both companies: convince Microsoft to give up on search and paid search platform building. Re-partner on both fronts.

* Piss off Wall Street somewhere around Q1 of 2008, by implementing a short-term de-monetization plan across all properties to increase user satisfaction and traffic growth. Basically, spend the rest of this year studying how you can monetize your traffic *less*. In verticals, in search, in apps, etc. I know that's already happened in a lot of places, but try to hive off a little more - your effective CPM probably bounces back anyway if you're patient. (See Godin, Seth. The Dip.) Don't think Google didn't just spend the last couple of years doing that after beginning life obsessed with it. The paradox of Google's gentle de-monetization initiatives is that it made them money hand over fist in the long run.

* Finally -- though it didn't work so well for Lycos, consider leaving acquired brands intact. (It works for IAC.) If you acquire Yelp, don't fold it into your overall plan but rather let it maintain its identity for the most part. Use your leverage to distribute it more widely and improve the product.

This post brought to you by the philosophy that launched this site in 1999: while the search & traffic ownership game is not quite winner-take-all, it is something close to that. Monopolistic-type advantages will make it more likely for people to default to your offering. When you own the traffic 100%, profit margin on monetization is superb. Profit margin on brokering media is highly squeezable. There are some searches out there that neither Yahoo nor Google own. It would make a lot of sense for Yahoo to swallow the price tag now, and begin owning them.

Go big or go home!

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Admitted: "We Do Arbitrage"

At Search Engine Strategies New York this week I had the opportunity to model a panel on the latest with buying contextual ads with particular focus on the top contextual programs through Google, Yahoo, IndustryBrains, and a couple of others.

One of the most fascinating was by a major cable television network that uses low-cost, broadly-based terms to drive traffic keying on all kinds of current pop culture related content. It's an actively managed campaign that requires constant innovation to stay ahead of the curve. What's so interesting about it is how cost-effective this is as a way of generating buzz, if you get the tone right. It's basically using online media to deflect user attention back into the media vortex, in a subtle manner.

The two main economic benefits stated by the panelist were:

* Low-cost awareness-building for their flagship hit programs;

* Traffic arbitrage, sometimes breaking even or better on the ad inventory they show on their own sites.

Let me repeat that again. In a world where we've suddenly been conditioned to believe that PPC arbitrage is wrong, this marketing executive unabashedly admitting to doing it.

This paralleled my own presentation the same week, on how Google currently measures site and landing page quality. In short, I wanted to make clear that you could technically call a lot of the media companies advertising on Google "arbitragers," because they know the rough CPC's and effective CPM's on their ad campaign with Google, and they know the rough payback on an impression basis from their already sold inventory. So in fact the distinction is not a literal one, where you point a finger at someone making a profit on a media buy/sell and call it evil; rather, Google's quality scoring formula aims to disincentivize certain advertisers from offering deceptive or particularly annoying user experiences as defined by user input and user behavior. In an upcoming column I'll look more at the distinctions between "arbitrage," "nearbitrage," and "garbitrage."

In short, to have an exec admitting to arbitrage is not scandalous. If they have advertising on their site, and are buying ads to drive to that site, anyone could have figured it out anyway. That's what they're doing. As a bonus, they get cheap promotion for their TV lineup. And some publishers get paid too. Win-win-win.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Wednesday, April 11, 2007

People Are Very Angry at Tim O'Reilly So They Just Proved His Point

It's hard to put a subtle debate into brief paragraphs, but I did want to elaborate a bit on my take about blogger codes of ethics or whatnot.

It's all too easy to wildly misinterpret a general initiative and to start rantin' and ravin' about "you can't impose a code of ethics on me, buddy," that's not what something like this is, in my mind. Of course some of the misguided substance of O'Reilly's initial draft didn't help.

Typical behaviors and conduct come with the territory in any industry. Consistency in conduct, and norms for said conduct, are the hallmark of any professional activity.

Of course no one should favor restrictive, tight-assed "you should communicate in this way" moralizing for the blogger community. Whoops, I just moralized. I meant, I don't favor it.

And it shouldn't be an overly formal certification. It should, above all, be useful. By self-identifying that they adhere to a certain viewpoint of what blogging is about, bloggers can communicate the rules of engagement for their particular publishing exercise, without having to constantly restate them.

A voluntary certification? Maybe not even that.

But if a persistent problem is hit-and-run comments - as we've seen in online communities since BBS days - then bloggers will begin using more robust user-identifying password systems for comments. Just a small example - but in two years I expect we'll at least beyond the lazy debate stage where it's seen as a complete outrage to have to log into a site to comment.

No one's talking about taking away anyone's precious anonymity, if they feel like spewing venom somewhere that permits it. But I have the right to opt into ways of regulating that - that's my freedom as the publisher. In fact maybe it's my responsibility to do so.

Doctors, lawyers, journalists, and other professionals are subject to regulatory standards to varying degrees.

We're bloggers, not doctors. OK. But further development of blogger *conventions* is absolutely healthy.

As for some of the other quasi-journalistic regulation proposed by O'Reilly: perhaps heavy-handed. But I restate my original point: someone started a productive debate, and from the tone taken by some of those who comment on blogs, many people have lost the ability to debate or to even acknowledge the substance of the other guy's argument before dismissing it. Could the anonymity coupled with immediacy be fueling a degree of contempt? Admittedly, blogosphere contempt can work in both directions, or multiple directions, until you give due credit for the fact that many well-known bloggers are accountable for their tone & substance alike, because they're visible. They're putting themselves out there.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




The Coffee Fool Got My Attention

You know you're doing something right when a speaker hanging out in the green room here at SES NYC unplugs his laptop and wanders over to show a fellow marketer a marketing campaign, as sort of a 15-second case study. This Coffee Fool appears to be a fairly heavy user of contextual advertising at the moment, showing up adjacent to GMail and such. (Not a really surprising semantic match given that you probably type a lot of messages like "meet for coffee?" in email.)

I'm not sure what "coffee secrets" are really "exposed," but hey.

Disclaimer: I don't endorse or know much about their marketing methods. I don't know the company. I just noticed them.

Very important disclosure: I was not paid to post this!

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Thumbs-Up to a Blogger Code of Conduct

When Jimmy Wales and Tim O'Reilly get on the front page of the New York Times... it's news... to everyone else. There's been an outpouring of feedback on the proposal for a blogger code of conduct in the wake of rounds of blogger nastiness.

I've never been one for codes of ethics, especially not codes that emerge suddenly from particular actors in emerging industries. In search marketing I've written in the past that a "benign anarchy" can be better than a cartel-like phony codification / certification process.

That said, I like that they're talking about certain levels or standards that we could voluntarily adhere to. I think that critics like Russell Shaw are missing the point.

Just think about the clumsy treatment here of the Kathy Sierra affair, or about the lower-quality comments that wind up on this blog, for example. A recent one was "too many dumb bloggers," left of course by an anonymous coward.

Would requiring registration and identification of commenters cut into the free-flowing spontaneity of the blogosphere? I kind of doubt it. If many of us agree to agree that commenting login systems really aren't that much of a burden, then we'll partly solve the problem of anonymity that allowed someones to attack Sierra on seemingly respectable forums.

It would also discredit fake attacks meant to impugn a third or fourth party.

I probably wouldn't adhere to the certification that required me to fact-check sources in a certain way. Yes, I like facts. But part of the problem with journalism is that a quote taken out of context looks nice but can be highly misleading. The blogosphere can be incisive without that particular standard getting in the way. That part of it should be voluntary.

There's really nothing wrong with a voluntary code of standards for bloggers. I'm glad O'Reilly and Wales sparked the debate, at least.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Monday, April 09, 2007

Yahoo's New Wireless MP3 Player

Will Yahoo's new Sansa Connect service make a serious dent in Apple's market share? Unlikely, because of the quirky way the subscriptions work. But you've got to admire the thinking. On-the-go users will eventually demand a flexible way of downloading new songs. As these devices and subscription options for multiple services evolve, you've got to think Yahoo is well positioned for further innovation.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Sunday, April 08, 2007

Vanessa Fox Nude?

I have a somewhat strict policy against entering SEO contests, even impromptu ones. It boils down to the lessons taught by Homer, eagerly lapped up by Bart: "can't win? don't try." Or: can't win! Don't try!

So try to get [a high ranking on] Vanessa Fox nude? No way! But there, I've just helped Vanessa up a notch in her race against Naylor. (I hope.)

Dave, you can't win! Won't a ton of people link to her, not you? Don't try!

(Plus, she works at Google, so she can hand-tweak the results.)

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Geek Stuff: 37 Mixed Signals; I Got the 8700

I'm a user of Basecamp in part because other people seem to know what it is, and it works well for cheap project management without conflicting with various other logins (eg. Google's free stuff). I was a bit taken aback by Douglas Karr's post that stated he'd canceled his Basecamp account because he didn't like (1) their attitude on their blog with the f-bombs and all; (2) the substance of one post about offline web applications; (3) the substance of another post about email marketing and scrolling; (4) oh yeah, his colleagues weren't using Basecamp... only he was.

Hmm, so tell me again, why did so many people sign up for Basecamp in the first place?

--

To provide some closure on my Blackberry dilemmas, see if you can recognize yourself in this situation. I went up to the Rogers Wireless storefront near me, because when it comes to stressful three-year relationships with monopolists, I need a lot of pampering. I was dead set on getting the 8800, as it sounds really cool, etc., and the 8300 isn't likely to be for sale in Canada until August at this rate. Problem was, depending on which plan I got, the device itself cost $350-375 more than the 8700! Even the Pearl was significantly cheaper. That's when I started to really ask myself what I needed it for. Don't need a media player, don't need GPS, and we're kind of running out of reasons to pay $350 more for cachet...

At that point, I thought: well, one of my main reasons for getting it is to use it as a phone also - so why not just get a Pearl even though I didn't like the Pearl's keyboard.

Then I came to my senses: I wanted a proper QWERTY Blackberry, with good phone quality, smaller than the old ones, for a newly-rock-bottom price. Ergo, the 8700! I began using the device immediately and am impressed with all facets. I've also downloaded several Google apps for Blackberry, including GMail proper and Google Talk, which could put a strain on my data plan. Good thing I saved $350 on the device.

P.S. to friends: I think this means I'll be on time for lunch!

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Free Speech; More Speech: The Kathy Sierra Affair

Chris Locke has his say, right out here in the open where debate belongs.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Saturday, April 07, 2007

On Bambi, Mark, Om, and Lou

Speaking of having your old media cake and eating your new media fling... there's been some reportage of Bambi Francisco being forced out of CBS Marketwatch to work full time on her startup, Vator.

It reminds me that recently I mentioned to a friend that Mark Evans had made this type of leap for the second time, to work for b5 media this time, from the National Post. I said it must mean he really believes in the company, taking such a big risk in leaving.

"Not really," said my friend. "If it flops, he can always get his old job back."

True enough. That's what happened to Lou Dobbs.

Jumping without a net isn't generally recommended... especially when you're pushed. Luckily, there's a hidden net. :)

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Jason Calacanis: "Sam Zell is going to lose billions and the Washington Post has no idea what their talking about"

Calacanis reminds us that snippets (especially opt-out available snippets) aren't stealing. As for newspapers themselves being on the decline, no question.

The longer debate is which old media companies are reinventing themselves at a reasonable pace. Most large companies have diversified holdings - why would newspapers be any different, and what is stopping them from restructuring, reinventing, investing, and thriving? Nothing, of course.

It appears troubling how frequently the big media (not just newspapers) have misjudged, misinvested, failed, and divested, in Internet stuff that just didn't catch fire.

I'm not sure what the difference is between success and failure here - is it startup culture? Or do most of these new ventures fail -- whether they emanate from old media, the major online players, or startups? That's probably more like it.

Now I'd love to see a list of what counts as stupefying success on a large scale with online content or local news and listings, on a par with newspapers of any size in their era. If it's The Drudge Report, then we're really just talking about cultural trends and a fascination with a bunch of "hits" on a website... not a major economic powerhouse.

To be sure, there's a reliable list of a dozen or so major online properties like Google, and big time startups like YouTube.

And yes, Craigslist, et al.

About.com? Ahem, bought out by the New York Times.

Great companies like Trader Media, now owned by Yellow Pages Group, started out in print, and they're moving over to online. But right there is proof that a traditional migration does make sense, and a traditional company, not a startup, created the majority of wealth for shareholders.

From an economic standpoint, the direct analogs of (or rhetorical competitors to) newspapers -- your world's hugest blog networks, for example -- only throw off a few million in cash a year at best. One of the most notorious ones sold for all of $25 million. Nick Denton, a leading blog tycoon, has said there's really no serious money in it. Some of the startups, like NowPublic, are cool. But until proven, they're hobbies or quick flips to Yahoo/Google/IAC, etc.

Newspapers and the diversified media companies that own them, somewhat analogous to Chrysler, may be old and crusty, but they're BIG. Other than Google, and the other 20-30 or so big online plays worth mentioning, most of the folks involved in newspaper-hating startups are longshot bettors. Are they sitting on a goldmine so rich that it makes sense to taunt traditional media conglomerates? The jury's out. Broadcast.com, Youtube, etc., all got out and acquired (for Yahoo/Google billions) before they had to prove up their biz models with serious revenues or profitability.

Conclusion: if Zell's smart, he can have his cake (sexy new media acquisitions) and eat it (trustworthy old media cash flow and editorial integrity & quality) too. And the startups that matter and thrive will seriously consider taking investment from old media; they're not averse to cake + cake themselves.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Future of Online Advertising Conference: 2 Free Tickets Available

Interested in attending FOOA June 7-8, but would be much more interested if you could get an $895 pass for free? As a speaker at the event, I've got a couple of free passes to give away. Please leave a note on our contact form if you're interested. I'll randomly draw two names from among those who express interest in the next few days.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




AOL Muddles Along

It seems interesting when you wake up on a Saturday, find an embargoed-til-Monday story has leaked out (and in my case I caught wind of it first via a Bloomberg News wire story printed in the business pages of the Globe and Mail this morning), and it involves AOL doing some deal with Google.

However, what the deal seems to do is offer Google powered ads directly to "AOL-only advertisers."

Problem? In the past 3-4 years, I've never met an advertiser that thinks, plans, or talks this way. AOL only? Who gives a fig?

Even "big" stories seem to be non-stories to our clients, the day-to-day ROI-driven, volume-seeking advertiser on the ground.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Thursday, April 05, 2007

The Dip, Part 1

OK, so I promised a riff on Seth Godin's new book, The Dip. Now that he's pointing to the The Dip blog, looks like a good time to say something.

But I probably shouldn't! I mean, the book isn't even out yet! This brings to mind the time I hadn't read Jurgen Habermas' A Theory of Communicative Action, Vol I, and I said to the professor: "but I *think* his main point in this chapter is probably...".... and the prof said "nope, not even close."

Anyhoo, based on the advance notice, The Dip appears to be about the dark period you go through when retrenching, rebuilding, rethinking, and reinvesting in something better. In the business world, it means your results will have to get worse before they get better. The alternative is a slide into mediocrity, something many folks are all too contented with - because they fear change, challenge, pain, and also excellence.

It's an old story, of course. Free traders sold us on the benefits of certain economic policies that led to rapid deindustrialization in some areas, before a rebound in productivity. They were right, sort of.

If you're going to motivate people to accept these Dips, you'd better have a helluva nice pot of gold, end of rainbow story.

So I got to thinking about many such Dip-like phenomena. And my mind wandered - of course! - to sports analogies.

It's common nowadays to hear about a top golfer like Tiger Woods "rebuilding his swing." Remember how Tiger both went in for knee surgery and rebuilt his swing, and his results went into a kind of trough (for him). And now, he's back better than ever? Meanwhile, there's Todd Hamilton still plugging away with no driving distance, no mental fortitude for Sunday, and a killer short game that won him the British open and sometimes lets him make a cut, hoping to get lucky one weekend... but in the meantime having trouble climbing out of 153rd on the money list.

Then again, maybe I should read the book first.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Google Top-Spot Ads: Was Banner Blindness Setting In?

Google refers vaguely to the "need for a new look" in shifting their top sponsored ad background color from blue to yellow today. Were CTR's declining? We know that rotating ad design in banner campaigns sometimes props up CTR's. Personally, I haven't seen much evidence of declining CTR up there at the top, but you never know.

Another significant shift is not triggering a clickthrough unless the user actually clicks the link. It's been a bit cheesy that clicking anywhere in the box caused a click. So the result of this shift should be a noticeable improvement in ROI out of the top ad spots. Fewer clicks, but more clicks that meant to click.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The Testing Revolution: Multivariate Landing Page Testing

Now that Google Website Optimizer is out of beta, more businesses will begin testing their landing pages to improve conversions.

As I was fairly familiar with the basic product features already, Google's Tom Leung and I had the chance to talk informally about some of the benefits of putting this product in many hands.

One issue I raised was how to weigh "advice sessions" and "clinics" and the like. The analogy might be a bit along the lines of American Idol... it would be very entertaining to see someone donning a Simon Cowell wig and blurting: "That's rubbish! That page will never convert! I mean just look at how small that search box is, and the abominable use of tables. And that paragraph about shipping. So trite. In short, I got nothing out of this and I'm wondering right now why I even bother to sit through this." So in short, Simon's usability advice could be hit-or-miss.

Compare that with the flipside: a distinctly un-Cowell-like Talent Optimizer that would input various pitches, intonations, arm lengths, dance gestures, wardrobe elements, and facial expressions into a virtual performer... and measure the correlations of each element to positive responses from the paying audience. ("Dr. Clark, it appears the optimal arm length for Celine Dion is a full foot shorter than we've been using! Egads! And look at that fingernail data! Midnight blue is kicking butt!")

Everything in its place. Just as we don't really quite want a Talent Optimizer (though record labels and boy band promoters probably have something close to that in the underground lab) judging American Idol, we need to move beyond Cowell-like subjectivity in our ecommerce efforts. A multivariate testing process is just that.

I managed to get a lengthy riff out of Leung on the reason Google doesn't recommend Taguchi optimization. That was something I noticed right away in the Website Optimizer literature, but Leung provided more color on it. The upshot is you really do need to test all potential combinations rather than a reduced combination set, because Taguchi makes poor assumptions around variable interactions. You can semi-Taguchify your process by hand. I won't bore you with the details but rest assured that whether you go with zero Taguchi, semi-Taguchi, or Taguchi on a Taco, this will likely be a step ahead of a simple A/B test, and many steps ahead of not testing at all.

Because testing is almost always better than not testing - and usually so much better that it even compensates for the risk of "messing with" a home page that ranks well organically - it's hard to see a significant downside.

Tom and I scratched our heads a bit trying to come up with an answer for the question: roughly speaking, can you make any serious errors running such tests? Setting aside technical snafus and things you might do to ruin your website by misinstalling code (your problem), basically the answer would be no. The biggest "error" would be to pick the wrong things to test - in other words, not improving as much as you could if you did it better.

The maximum number of variations the Optimizer product will allow for a single landing page test? Leung said 10,000. I recently completed a test that involved 16, and am running one with 24 now. For these particular tests, had I done them using 10,000 combinations, they'd reach statistical significance around the year 2258. Coincidentally, that's about the time they'll have finally perfected Celine Dion.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Don't show your ads in Utah...

Or just wait out the foolishness.

[Update: Eric Goldman WTF's it!]

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Skrenta on Not Sucking

Rich Skrenta and Topix squarely faced up to the fact that there has to be life beyond a lifeless SEO strategy with a lot of topical pages getting a lot of site visitors. The pages have to be good, or why bother?

So they went through an agonizing rethink, and re-emerged with a community news focus driven by citizen journalists. The growth has been phenomenal. For empty topics, one of their lead engineers even came up with a so-called "Roboblogger" to seed them. A Roboblogger! Only in America!

The retrench and rethink is the only way to emerge from mediocrity and remarkability, IMHO.

I'm put in mind of Seth Godin's hot new book, The Dip. I'm in the midst of a couple of Dips myself at the moment, which explains why, as they say, posting has been light.

I'll add a riff on Seth's stuff... and one on citizen journalism... in the next couple of posts.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Sunday, April 01, 2007

All Your Base ARe belong to Nous

Matt Cutts blog: apparently hacked. Or so the aliens would have us believe.

In other news, I shit you not: Leigh Himel alerts us to a new publishing app called The Shitter. Don't go there.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




"GMail Paper Is a Scrapbooker's Dream"


It's been a couple years since an April Fool's joke has made me laugh out loud. Here's a screenshot of the GMail joke for April 1.

Personal favorite lines include: "You can make us print one, one thousand, or one hundred thousand paper emails. It's whatever seems reasonable to you."

And of course the "inobtrusive" ad-supported nature of the service, with "36 pt. red Helvetica." Although I highly doubt the claim that Flash animations and popups are "physically impossible in the paper medium"! I'm sure you guys will find a way.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




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